WBUR journalists are professionals who bring knowledge, skills and commitment to serve the public and the public interest. Our journalism is built on a foundation of accuracy, fairness and inclusion. Our decision-making is guided by rigor, transparency and independence. Our journalists are honest and respectful. We are accountable for our actions and our reporting.
These guiding ethical principles are aspirational. They do not provide answers to every journalistic and ethical issue we encounter. They do provide us with a moral compass. They spotlight our duty. They encourage us to ask hard questions of ourselves, to discuss and debate with colleagues, and to reach carefully reasoned decisions. They challenge us to strive for excellence in our work.
This is a living document and shall be revisited periodically and revised as needed. These principles are supported by a series of guidelines that offer more specific information to help us make sound decisions. We will strive to be transparent and explain ethical decisions as they apply to these guidelines so others can learn from those experiences. Those lessons are important for all WBUR journalists and may also at times be valuable for our audience or other stakeholders.
The NPR Ethics Handbook is a primary source for WBUR’s editorial guidelines and the documents share language and guidelines. Other sources include news ethics guidelines from other public media and professional journalism organizations.
Who Is Covered And Why
Anyone who produces journalism for WBUR or on behalf of WBUR is covered by WBUR’s Guiding Ethical Principles. This includes WBUR employees as well as freelancers and contributors for the period that they are on assignment or otherwise producing editorial work for WBUR.
Commentators, analysts, critics and opinion writers who provide original editorial content for WBUR are expected to adhere to WBUR’s guiding principles regarding honesty, respect, accuracy, fairness, independence and interdependence in the work that they produce. As just one example, contributors need to disclose to their editor any conflicts of interest, as further addressed in the Independence and Interdependence guiding principle. At the same time, these contributors often provide unique perspective, expertise and opinion, and as such may take public positions on issues in their work that would not be appropriate for members of the editorial staff.
WBUR will provide freelancers, contributors and collaborators with these guidelines so they may understand our values and standards. It is the responsibility of editors and other journalists supervising commissioned work to oversee the reporting process of freelancers and contributors to ensure it is in keeping with WBUR’s standards.
These guidelines are designed specifically for editorial staff, however these principles should be understood and respected by all WBUR staff, who should be mindful that they represent WBUR.
We do not expect the public to differentiate between editorial and non-editorial staff, and we expect all employees to protect and respect the public trust and credibility we hold precious.
Access the full section of each guiding principle by clicking on the titles below.
We devote our resources and our skills to presenting the fullest version of the truth possible. In this mission, we seek and include a diversity of voices, experiences and points of view. We are rigorous in our reporting and diligent in our verification. We take great care to ensure that statements of fact in our journalism are both correct and in context. We strive for precision and seek to be comprehensive and inclusive. We place the greatest value on information we have gathered and verified ourselves. We challenge the claims we encounter and we test the assumptions we bring.
Fairness is at the core of excellent and ethical journalism. To tell the truest story possible, it is essential that we treat those we interview and report on with scrupulous fairness, guided by a spirit of professionalism. We seek responses from those who are the subjects of criticism, unfavorable allegations or other negative assertions in our stories. What we report is edited for time, space and clarity. Those are realities, not excuses for error. When we quote, edit or otherwise report what people tell us, we aim to be faithful to their meaning, so our stories ring true to those we interview. In all our stories, especially matters of controversy, we strive to consider the strongest arguments, seeking to deliver both nuance and clarity. Our goal is not to please the people we report on or to produce stories that create the appearance of balance, but to seek the truth.
We must be honest and truthful in the course of our work. It is a cornerstone of the trust between journalists and the public. We identify ourselves as WBUR journalists when we report. We attribute information, making clear to our audience what information comes from which source. We do not pay for interviews. We avoid hyperbole and sensational conjecture. We edit and present information honestly, without deception. Only in very rare instances – such as when public safety is at issue, when lives are at stake, or when our safety is of great concern – might we withhold or disguise our identity or intent when reporting. Before we take such a step, we engage in rigorous deliberation, consider all alternatives and have approval from senior news leaders. Then, when we tell the story, we fully disclose what we did and why.
Our obligation is to report the news good and bad. And everyone affected by our journalism deserves to be treated with decency and compassion. We are civil in our actions and words, avoiding arrogance and hubris. We listen to others. When we ask tough questions, we do so to seek answers — not confrontations. We respect and strive to include cultures different from our own and seek to represent them authentically in our work. We are mindful of how our own experiences affect our perception. We minimize harm and take special care with those who are vulnerable or suffering. And with all subjects of our coverage, particularly for those who do not hold public roles, we are mindful of their privacy as we fulfill our journalistic obligations.
WBUR’s primary commitment is to the public. We serve that public interest with accurate, fair and honest reporting. Decisions about what we cover, how we do our work and what we report are made by our journalists. We are not influenced by those who provide WBUR with financial support. Boston University owns WBUR’s FCC license, but we maintain editorial independence of our content. We are not deterred by those who might attempt to undermine our independence. We are not swayed in our journalistic mission by those in power or those who attempt to manipulate our journalism. We do not let any of our personal interests conflict with our allegiance to the public.
Our independence does not stand alone. To fulfill our journalistic mission we must also be interdependent with the communities we serve. This means we must be informed, inclusive and grounded in the issues and communities we cover. Our journalists must proactively engage with the people, constituencies and organizations to reflect the entirety of our region. We must observe, listen and learn. Our credibility relies on the trust we build with those we serve. Critical to that trust is that our audience must see themselves – their lives and the issues that matter to them – reflected in our coverage.